(Washington, DC) – Senator Dianne Feinstein’s account of CIA efforts to obstruct congressional oversight underscores the urgency of declassifying a Senate report on the CIA secret detention and interrogation program, Human Rights Watch said today. The Justice Department should fully investigate allegations that the CIA sought to undermine oversight by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which Feinstein chairs.
“Senator Feinstein’s statements suggest that the CIA is going to extraordinary lengths to obstruct oversight and hide the truth about their abuses, not only from the Senate, but from the American public,” said Laura Pitter, senior national security researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The best way to cut through the CIA fog is for the government to declassify and release the Senate torture report.”
The Obama administration should publicly respond to the latest allegations of CIA obstruction, Human Rights Watch said.
Recent allegations about CIA obstruction of Senate oversight were first made public on March 4, 2014. The allegations came to light after news media reported that the CIA inspector general asked the Justice Department to look into whether the agency improperly spied on Intelligence Committee staff. The staff members were investigating CIA abuses of detainees in their custody after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Media coverage suggested that the agency accessed computers that committee staff was using in an effort to determine how staff members obtained access to an internal CIA document. That document is reported to have been an internal CIA review of its detention and interrogation program that confirmed many details of the Intelligence Committee’s report and contradicted the CIA’s stated objections to the report.
In her March 11, 2014, remarks, Feinstein alleged not only that the CIA spied on committee staff, but that it also secretly removed documents from computers used by the Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation.
The CIA director, John Brennan, responded to Feinstein by denying charges that the agency was trying to thwart the Senate report or that it had inappropriately accessed Senate computers, and said he would defer to the Justice Department investigation of the allegations.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s more than 6,000-page report, completed in 2012, documents the abuse that occurred in CIA custody after the September 11 attacks and evaluates the value of the intelligence gathered. The committee’s statements to the media said that the report finds that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” many of which amounted to torture, failed to produce valuable intelligence, contrary to what the CIA told Congress, the Obama administration, and the public. In December 2012 Feinstein called the CIA’s program and creation of secret black sites “terrible mistakes.”
The US has yet to hold anyone accountable for abuse in the CIA detention and interrogation program, despite overwhelming evidence documented by Human Rights Watch and others that detainees were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The most important criminal investigation was led by the Justice Department into alleged abuses against 101 detainees, two of whom died in custody. But the investigation closed nearly two years ago without anyone being charged. In his response to Feinstein, Brennan stated that the agency had “made mistakes” and tried to learn from them, noting that the agency had “[t]hings it was asked to do, that it was directed to do.” But he added that “[e]ven as we have learned from the past, we must also try to put the past behind us."
“Senators who have seen the Intelligence Committee report say it not only documents serious abuses by the CIA but also the agency’s false reporting about the program’s value,” Pitter said. “If the CIA manages to block even a public accounting of these abuses, it suggests either that the Obama administration can’t control its own intelligence agency, or that it doesn’t want to.”